BETHLEHEM, JAN. 6, 2001 ( On January 2, John Paul II´s special envoy, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, officially closed the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 in the Holy Land.

The ceremony was held in St. Catherine´s Church in Bethlehem, despite the atmosphere of tension being felt at present in the Middle East. The Mass, which was scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m., was delayed because of the isolation of the Occupied Territories ordered by the Israeli authorities.

Even the Vatican delegation, headed by Cardinal Etchegaray himself, had to present special permits to be able to enter the City of David.

During the Mass, the Basque-French Cardinal made a heartfelt appeal for reconciliation and hope, cornerstones for a return to peace in the Middle East.

The Cardinal said that this "peace does not depend solely on a diplomatic process: it stems from the conversion of spirits and hearts, and is founded on the dignity of all humanity, without discriminations or violations, including free social and professional circulation. If justice and truth are not the same for all, there cannot be justice or truth for anyone."

By express wish of John Paul II, the Jubilee of the Year 2000 was the first Holy Year in history that had Rome and the Holy Land as its two centers. Bishop Kamal-Hanna Bathish, president of the Holy Land Jubilee Committee, evaluated the participation of Catholics of the area in this historic event on Vatican Radio.

  • Q: What were the highlights of the Holy Year in Jesus´ land?

  • Bishop Kamal-Hanna Bathish: The two decisive events of greatest repercussion were the conclusion of the Diocesan Synod of all the Catholic Churches of the Holy Land, which ended in February with a general assembly, and the Holy Father´s visit in March. These two events were a real revelation of our local Church. Our greatest discovery as a local Church was to see how we can count on lay people committed to the Church.

  • Q: What was the result of the Pope´s visit to the Holy Land?

  • Bishop Kamal-Hanna Bathish: It helped Muslims become aware of the Christian presence, which must not be disregarded, while the Jewish people underwent a realization of who Christ is, and of what Christianity, Christians and, in particular, the figure of the Holy Father are.

  • Bishop Kamal-Hanna Bathish: The different visits of non-Catholic leaders of Churches. For example, all the leaders of the Orthodox Churches came to the Holy Land during the first week of January of last year to celebrate a one-week congress and festival for Christmas, which Orthodox celebrate on January 7. It was followed by the visit of the recently elected Armenian Catholikos, who celebrated the Armenians´ Christmas here on January 19. Moreover, in July a meeting of several Melkite Greek-Catholic bishops was held here; they participated in a study session and visit to the Holy Land.

  • Q: How large have the numbers of pilgrims been?

  • Bishop Kamal-Hanna Bathish: It has been numerous. In particular, they came to experience the Easter season. These numbers came to an end during the months of September and October when, unfortunately, violence was unleashed, which put a complete stop to visits. The worst thing is that we expected the number of pilgrims to grow increasingly up to the month of December.

  • Q: What does the arrival of pilgrims mean to the Christians of these lands?

  • Bishop Kamal-Hanna Bathish: It is a great consolation. Especially when we see that they return transformed and completely converted to the Lord, changing their lives totally. Furthermore, although today, because of the violence, there are no more pilgrims, this movement has awakened an interest in the Holy Land in many Christians around the world. We hope that the official closing of the Holy Year will not be the end of this entire movement of conversion and return to the Lord but, rather, that it will give new impetus to enter the new millennium with a reinvigorated Christian life, renewed in all our Christians of the Holy Land, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, as well as in all pilgrims who will come to visit us.